Mike Johnston

WHL hammers Winterhawks for undisclosed “player benefit violations”


The Portland Winterhawks are being punished for what the Western Hockey League calls a “series of player benefit violations which have occurred over the past four seasons.”

The league announced today that the Winterhawks will be barred from participating in the first five rounds of the 2013 bantam draft and will forfeit their first-round picks in the following four drafts.

GM/head coach Mike Johnston has also been suspended for the balance of the 2012-13 season, plus the playoffs.

In addition, the organization has been fined $200,000.

“Our independent investigation in this case revealed there were multiple violations over an extended period for player benefits that are not permitted under WHL Regulations and were not disclosed to the WHL,” said league commissioner Ron Robison in a statement.

“It should also be noted through the course of the investigation there was no evidence of any payments or enhanced education benefits provided to players that would be contrary to WHL Regulations as previous media reports indicated.”

No specifics of the violations were disclosed in the announcement; however, TSN’s Bob McKenzie reports that the league’s investigation did not uncover any “irregularities” with regards to the club’s recruitment and acquisition of top prospect Seth Jones.

The sanctions come in the wake of a dramatic turnaround for the Winterhawks. When Johnston took over early in 2008-09, he inherited a team that had won just 47 games in the previous three seasons. Fast forward to the present and the team is coming off back-to-back appearances in the WHL finals.

Recent first-round NHL picks out of Portland:

2010: Ryan Johansen, 4th overall by Columbus
2010: Nino Niederreiter, 5th overall by NY Islanders
2011: Sven Baertschi, 13th overall by Calgary
2011: Joe Morrow, 23rd overall by Pittsburgh
2012: Derrick Pouliot, 8th overall by Pittsburgh

Update (4:25 p.m. ET):

The club has released a statement outlining the violations that it’s been found to have committed.

—- A player contract signed in 2009, involving flights for the player’s family and a summer training program
—- Over the last five years, seven families were provided flights 2-4 times per season based on financial need and their distance from Portland
—- Twice in the last five years the team paid for two players to each have a one-week summer training regimen
—- The Winterhawks provided a cell phone for its team captain for a period of three seasons

Not surprisingly, the club feels the punishment is overly harsh.

“After fully cooperating with the league’s investigation, we were extremely surprised at the excessive nature of the sanctions, and we don’t feel they are in line with the scope of the violations we were found to have committed,” Johnston said in the release.

“We believe that apart from recruiting trips and parents’ weekend, there is no prohibition in the rules governing flights for players’ parents, which were the majority of the infractions. We are currently exploring our options on how we will proceed. Despite our objections, the league has made its decision, and our players will continue to pursue the goal of winning a WHL championship.”

Image of Mike Johnston via winterhawks.com

Royal pain: Kings’ Greene to have shoulder surgery, out indefinitely

Jiri Hudler, Matt Greene
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The Los Angeles Kings lost one of their most veteran defensemen on Tuesday, as the club announced Matt Greene would be out indefinitely following shoulder surgery.

Greene, 32, had only appeared in three games this season, missing extensive time with the ailment. He had recently resumed skating with teammates and looked to be on the way back to a return, but never got to the point where he was participating in drills, or taking contact.

With Greene out of the lineup, the Kings have primarily gone with a six-man defensive unit of Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, Alec Martinez, Christian Ehrhoff, Jamie McBain and Brayden McNabb. Derek Forbort and Jeff Schultz have also been in the mix, but sparingly.

If Greene misses extensive time, L.A. could be in the market for a defenseman come trade deadline day, like they were last year before acquiring Andrej Sekera from Carolina. Greene is one of the most playoff-tested players on the L.A. roster, with 79 games and two Stanley Cups on his resume (and another Stanley Cup Final, with Edmonton in 2006).

Looks like the Canucks will have an interesting lineup tonight

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The Vancouver Canucks got banged up last night in Anaheim. As a result, it looks like they’ll have an interesting lineup tonight in Los Angeles.

Coach Willie Desjardins confirmed this morning that wingers Chris Higgins and Jake Virtanen were hurt and wouldn’t dress against the Kings.

In game-day line rushes, AHL callup Andrey Pedan, a defenseman, was skating on the wing with Jared McCann and Radim Vrbata.

But hold on, that doesn’t necessarily mean Pedan will make his NHL debut tonight. This morning, the Canucks announced they’d called up d-man Alex Biega from AHL Utica. Theoretically, inserting Biega could allow the offensively inclined Yannick Weber to move up to forward. Biega and Weber both shoot right. Pedan shoots left.

But wait, there exists another possibility — that both Pedan and Biega could play. That will depend on Chris Tanev‘s status. He got banged up yesterday as well, though he was able to skate this morning.

Confused? It’s OK. So is everyone.

As an aside, the Canucks not only got banged up last night, they also got pushed around and embarrassed in a 4-0 loss to the Ducks.

On that note, here’s what Pedan did to Jarred Tinordi in a Utica-Hamilton game last season:

Francis, Kurri, McKenzie named to Hockey Hall of Fame committee

Ron Francis
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The Hockey Hall of Fame selection committee added some big names on Tuesday — most notably, a pair of Hockey Hall of Famers.

Ron Francis (inducted in 2007) and Jarri Kurri (2001) have been appointed to the committee, the Hall announced. Longtime hockey scribe and hockey insider Bob McKenzie was also named; together, he and Francis and Kurri will replace an outgoing trio of Lanny McDonald, Mike Emrick and Peter Stastny.

Francis currently serves as the GM in Carolina while Kurri holds the same title with Jokerit of the KHL.

More, from NHL.com:

McDonald resigned his spot on the committee to become chairman, while the terms of Stastny and Emrick expired.

The Hall also announced Eric Duhatschek, Michael Farber and Bill Torrey were reappointed to the selection committee for a further three-year term.

The next big meeting for the new members of the selection committee comes in late June, when everyone gathers to consider candidates for the 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame.

The announcement for new inductees will be made on June 27. As we’ve written about in the past, the list of first-time eligible entrants isn’t exactly overwhelming, so this could be the year some “passed over” candidates get in.

Among those in that category? Eric Lindros, Dave Andreychuk, Mark Recchi and Jeremy Roenick, to name a few.

Related: Poll: Who should be in the 2016 Hockey Hall of Fame?

Suter admits to ‘saying stuff I probably shouldn’t have said’


For the Minnesota Wild, today was a day for damage control.

Try to act surprised, OK?

“We’re obviously on the same page,” defenseman Ryan Suter told the Star Tribune. “It’s a story that shouldn’t even be a story. I think the heat of the practice yesterday, I was just saying stuff I probably shouldn’t have said.”

In case you missed it, what Suter said was that he shouldn’t be playing with a left-shot defenseman like Jonas Brodin.

“I don’t know what [the coaches are] thinking,” said Suter.

But in addition to that — and this was the really eye-opening stuff — Suter effectively questioned how head head coach Mike Yeo was reacting…

…to the latest bit of adversity the Wild were facing.

“Now’s when you need leadership more than ever,” said Suter. “It’s easy to be a coach and a leader when things are going good.”

The Star Tribune has more on what everyone was saying today, so be sure to click on the story.

Yeo, predictably, downplayed Suter’s remarks, chalking them up to a “guy that when you ask him to do something, he might tell you his opinions, but nobody will go out there and do it better than him.”

The Wild take on the Blackhawks tonight at United Center (on NBCSN).

Oh, and Suter will, indeed, skate with Brodin against the defending champs. Those two have only been together a bit this season, but they were a frequent pairing last season.

Expected pairings (shoots)
Ryan Suter (L) – Jonas Brodin (L)
Marco Scandella (L) – Jared Spurgeon (R)
Nate Prosser (R) – Matt Dumba (R)

P.S. — This is why the Wild were hoping for better things from young Dumba.